Tora is a long way from Tremaine. Despite
the distance we ran into only one enemy strike force.
For some unknown reason the beetles completely ignored us when we
crossed the barrier. Either they were not expecting a federation ship
out here in the void or they were inattentive. The three enemy ships
were dispersed over a physically wide area.
“Enemy ships at the limit of our detection gear,” I shouted as soon as
we were back in normal space.
“How many?” the captain asked, glaring at me.
“Three of them, I believe. The motion detectors give a confused reading.
Nothing is registering on the mass-proximity units.”
Captain Litvak came to my station to study the instruments.
“They appear to be drifting out there,” I said, studying the readouts.
“We are approaching them but they do not appear to be aware of us.”
The captain grunted something and then returned to his chair. “Keep me
informed if there is any change,” he said. “Navigator, plot our next
jump. And make it snappy.”
Petra Baird looked up from her computer, shrugged and then continued
with her work. Even Commander Yonge frowned when he heard the captain’s
gruff outburst. While we had been approaching the Coleopteron ships for
some time now, we had not come much closer to them.
“Enemy ships have a negative velocity relative to us,” I now informed
He looked up at me. “Are you sure, Kester?” he asked, his voice still
“Yes, Sir, absolutely.” Captain Litvak nodded, as if he knew what to
“Jump plotted and laid in, Captain,” Petra Baird finally said.
The helmsman had his hand close to the jump button while looking
expectantly at Litvak.
“What are our adversaries doing now, Mr. Kester?” the captain asked.
“They are still drifting there. At present there are only three vessels
out there.” I studied my instruments for a minute. It now appeared that
the enemy ships were pulling closer together. Suddenly the needle on the
mass-proximity unit fluttered.
“A fourth enemy vessel has just taken a reading,” I shouted.
“Helmsman, jump,” Captain Litvak roared.
At precisely the instant we were leaving normal space a Coleopteron
warship broke through the barrier a short distance to our starboard
“Just as I figured,” the captain mused, more to himself than to us.
“Those three ships out there knew they were at the limit of our
instruments while the fourth one was beyond our range. That was why
they tried to give us the illusion they were not aware of us. It
happened once before when I was Number One on Captain Warinski’s ship.”
He rose. “Standard routine,” he said in a loud voice and left the
When you are on patrol you soon lose your sense of time. There is no
change from day to night. Yo u also have no change from routine. Yo u
are on duty all the time. In theory you are on duty for four hours and
off duty for eight hours, except when there is an emergency or we are at
a code three alert. Then you are on duty until the emergency is over. In
practice, however, you train much of the time.
On our ship we were usually in normal space for several hours on a code
three alert. Then we jumped, most of the time for about seven hours. I
don’t profess to know why Captain Litvak preferred a seven hour jump.
Our ship could jump for a maximum of ten hours at a time, but that
stretched its capability to the limit. On most ships the captains
jumped for eight hours while going from Inverness to their respective
patrol position and returning to Inverness. While on patrol all ships
stayed mostly in normal space, and the jumps were only for short
Some of our ships have a translator aboard which translates Coleopteron
radio messages for us. Some also have probability computers which tell
the captain the likelihood of meeting an enemy strike force at the end
of a particular jump. Our ship had neither a translator nor a
probability computer. It was the aim of the High Command that every ship
would eventually be equipped with these aids.
And some captains have a sixth sense which unfailingly protects them.
Captain George Warinski, our most successful fleet officer, has this
gift in large measure.
Sometimes our captain, Roy Litvak, is in a jovial mood. It does not
happen often, but there are occasions. At those times he tells us
anecdotes and stories from the days before the war. They are highly
interesting. They also give me additional background information.
Particularly his stories about the early weeks and months of the war
have a large following and the wardroom is crowded.
An ASV vessel is a small ship as ships go. We have a crew of only
thirty-eight. An ASV vessel is like a destroyer, the largest fighting
ship we have which can bridge interstellar distances. Of course we also
have freighters and passenger ships which are much larger. But their
speed is only a fraction of that of an ASV vessel. ASV stands for Armed
Survey Vessel, I believe.
Captain Litvak had been first officer on Captain Warinski’s ship for a
while before he was promoted and got his own command. He was present
when the first act of war occurred in the current conflict. And it was
at Tora Tw o where we first made contact with the Coleoptera or beetles
as they are popularly known.
Now the sun of Tora Two was centered on our forward screen. One week on
patrol in the Tora system and then back to Inverness for refitting and a
rest. Even I was beginning to look forward to it. And there was Petra
Baird. The better I got to know her the more attractive she became. By
the end of this voyage both she and I would have accumulated ten days of
furlough. She was keen to spend that time with me in the wilderness of
Inverness. And I also looked forward to it with a good deal of
anticipation as we had been aboard our ship, ASV 659, for almost three
While in the beginning I had tried to distance myself from Petra Baird
my resolve had collapsed after only a few days. It was as if some magic
drew us both together.
At that time Petra had played hard to get while at the same time teasing
me and flirting with me. Then I had had the accident before reaching
Inverness and that brought us much closer to each other. And after I had
returned from dropping off the ranger contingent on Outpost Twelve - or
Tremaine as everybody now called it - our relationship had entered an
entirely new phase. No longer were we merely shipmates or friends. Ever
so subtly her feelings for me had turned into love and to my very
considerable surprise I also found that I had fallen in love with her.
Since Louise Yasuda had remained on Tremaine Bill Johnson had become
somewhat moody. Occasionally he sought me out and talked incessantly
about Louise and what they would do once they were both back on
Inverness. At other times he would be withdrawn and avoided contact with
Most of the time we trained for every conceivable emergency. Often we
were so beat at the conclusion of an exercise that we went to our cabins
and fell asleep fully clothed. There were, however, also times when
Commander Yonge and Captain Litvak spent a few hours during jumps in the
main briefing room. I have no idea what they discussed or why they
deemed it necessary to have these conferences. Sometimes Chief Sun Lee
also took part. The rest of the ship’s company took it easy on those
Petra and I still went to the small rear wardroom which was usually
deserted. What did we chat about? Today I cannot quite remember. It
probably was nothing of great significance. I do recall though that we
discussed in great detail the anticipated ten days vacation once we
returned to Inverness. I also recall that we had only very few of these
periods and they did not seem to last very long, at least not in
subjective time. Looking back now they have taken on the quality of
precious moments, of periods of enchantment and tenderness. Yes, I think
I lost my heart on that ship, ASV 659.